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Divorce and pets: how custody of Fido works when you split

Imagine that you and your spouse have a pet dog, and for years the three of you live happily together. As the years go on, however, you and your spouse start to get into more fights; there's less of a connection between the two of you; and eventually, you both realize that your marriage is untenable. You and your spouse agree to file for divorce.

While you guys don't harbor any ill-will towards the other, there are critical elements to any divorce that need to be decided -- and usually one spouse ends up with "more" than the other. This isn't a hard rule, mind you. Many divorces have very even splits among assets, property, furniture, motor vehicles, and myriad other things pertinent to the divorce. But, in general, one spouse may get "more" (may that be an objective opinion, or just in the eyes of the other spouse).

However, let's go back to your pet. How does your dog get handled in a divorce?

Pet custody is a complex issue in divorce, because pets are personal property in the eyes of the law. That means your dog, or your cat, or any pet that you and your spouse may have is treated like a chair, or a couch, or some other item that only one of you can truly have.

Pet custody cases are on the rise in the last five years, according to 27 percent of respondents to a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. So what can be done to avoid a messy break-up with your pet? You and your soon-to-be-ex can reach a pet custody deal, similar to a child custody agreement. Your divorce doesn't mean that you have to say goodbye to your beloved pet.

Source: MainStreet, "Pet Custody Battles on the Rise in Divorce Court," Juliette Fairley, Feb. 21, 2014

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